Friday, October 30, 2009

Lavaman ... and my dad

Tonight was the official kick-off of the winter Team in Training session. When I first heard about the Lavaman Triathlon, I thought of it as the "what's next" after completing the Danskin Triathlon in August. But in the last couple of weeks, and especially tonight, it became so much more.

I remember being in my apartment, it was a sunny day, my husband was there and the phone rings. "I have cancer" my dad tells me. I don't remember my response, just the fear. I know he told me a lot of details here, what kind of cancer, what the treatment would be, but I don't remember any of it. All I remember is "I have cancer".

For the next several months I would hear updates. Visits became more frequent. It was important to go home for Christmas. Then in January, the visits became almost weekly. As soon as my husband and I would get off work on Friday, we would get in the car (making sure the cats had enough food for the weekend) drive late into the night, arrive early Saturday, spend the day, then head back to Seattle on Sunday. Eight hours each way (if the weather was good) for eight hours with my dad.

I remember Valentine's day, 1996. My dad was in the ICU and wanted to give my mom a gift. I spent hours trying to find just the right card (ending up buying five so that he could pick just the right one).

I remember what I knew in my heart would be my last conversation with my father.

I remember a phone call... "You should come back" (although I knew it would be too late).

Tonight, at our Team in Training kick-off, we heard from someone who is a blood cancer survivor. She praised not only the doctors and researchers, but also the people who do Team in Training events to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). The money raised by LLS directly helped to fund research that not only made her treatment easier than it would have been in the past, but ultimately saved her life. All I could think was "if only this could be my Dad's story..."

So, "what's next" is the Lavaman Triathlon on the Big Island of Hawaii on March 28, 2010. Five months of training, six days a week (in Seattle weather), so that I will be able to complete a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and a 6-mile run. I want to do this, not just for me, not just in memory of my dad, but for all the dad's out there who could have a fighting chance of beating this disease.

Please make a donation to support my participation in Team In Training and help advance LLS's mission. Absolutely any amount will be appreciated, it all adds up!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Carrot and Fennel Soup with Tarragon Cream

This is, quite possibly, the best soup I have ever made. 'Nuff said.

Here's the ingredients:

1 bunch carrots, peeled and chopped
2 head fennel, julienned

1 onion, julienned

3 clove garlic (not pictured because I forgot them)

2-3 cups chicken or veggie stock (not pictured because the husband had not returned from the store yet)

1/2 cup cream

1 bunch tarragon, chopped fine

To start I heated the oven to 450 degrees and lined a baking sheet with aluminum foil (the foil isn't necessary unless you're lazy like me). Once the oven was heated, I tossed the carrot with a little olive oil, salt and pepper then put them on the sheet in the hot oven to roast for 10 minutes (I just wanted to give them a little head start).

Next I tossed the onion, fennel and garlic with a little more olive oil, salt and pepper, then added them to the pan. I returned this to the oven for another 30 minutes.

While the veggies cooked I added the cream and tarragon to a blender and gave it a whiz for a few seconds. My thought was that this would chop the tarragon, but it didn't do as good a job as I would have liked. So, when I make this again (notice the when, not if) I will chop the tarragon before adding it to the cream. However, I would still whiz it in the blender for a few seconds because it thickened the cream ever so slightly, which was nice (just don't let it go for too long or you'll end up with butter).

Once the veggies were soft I put a few of them into a blender and added just enough broth to cover them (not too much, because you can always add more later it you need too).

I put each batch through a mesh strainer (the fennel was really fibrous, so the texture before straining was not so nice) into a sauce pan for a little reheating. When it was time for dinner I ladled up a little soup and topped it with the tarragon cream.

Best. Soup. Ever. Maybe a little more labor intensive than I like my soup (I did after all have to get out a blender instead of using my stick blender) but totally worth it. I'm going to make this again and again and again ...

Liqueurs and Infused vodkas

Last Thursday the Puget Sound Chapter of the United Stated Personal Chef Association got together to make liqueurs and infused vodkas. The idea being that if we started them now, they would be ready before the holiday season begins.

In all, we made five different infusions.
Limoncello (which will get it's simple syrup added in about a month)
Apple-Infused Vodka
Pepper-Infused Vodka (which should be excellent for Bloody Mary's)
Coffee Liqueur (because I love a good white Russian)
Cranberry-Infused Vodka

One of the group also brought a bounty of peppers to pickle (along with some delicious tomatoes to nosh on). Here's Tom doing pickled pepper prep.

Wendy sliced apples for apple-infused vodka while Anita zested a million (okay 15) lemons.

Here's Anita adding Lime and Orange Zest to the jar in preparation for the apple-infused vodka while Tom packs jars with peppers.

Jars of packed peppers ready to be topped with hot vinegar.

Here's Betsy "helping" while the rest of us work.

Just kidding. Here's Betsy working on the cranberry-infused simple syrup. The recipe actually called for chopping up the cranberries in a food processor but we decided to pop them open in the simple syrup instead.

I made coffee liqueur and then took over stirring the simple syrups (we were stirring them to try to get them to cool faster).

Here's the limencello, apple-infused vodka, and pepper vodka.

It was Anita's Birthday so Sadie (who I managed to not get one picture of somehow) made the most delicious caramel-topped brownies.

All of the liqueurs and vodkas and now safely resting in my pantry. Each day for the next few weeks I'll be giving them a shake for optimal infusing.

It's true what they say, the waiting is the hardest part.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's in the Box?

1 Kabocha Squash

2 Yellow Onions

1 Bunch Orange Carrots

.75 pound Farmer's Choice Of Sweet Peppers

4 Russet Potatoes

1 bunch Red Beets

1 Rosa Bianca Eggplant

1 Fennel

1.25 pounds Garnet Yams

1 Parsnip

3 D'anjou Pears

3 Gala Apples

Friday, October 16, 2009


A look through the crisper drawer yesterday revealed very little. Beets, cabbage and little else. So then, what to do with these meager supplies? I thought first about making cabbage rolls but as I checked out my cabbage I realized that its time in the back of the crisper drawer had left it frozen just a bit on the bottom. So then I thought, maybe soup, the frozen cabbage might work out in there. Then, it hit me, Bierocks. Bierocks are a German dish consisting of slightly sweet dough stuffed with a mixture of cabbage, onion and ground beef.

I'm of German descent and much of my family is from the Midwest. I spent a lot of time at my Grandparent's house and if there was one thing you could count on, it was the fact that there would be at least one potluck at the Lutheran church while I was there. My Grandmother and other ladies of the church would make hundreds (if not thousands) of these every year.

My uncle, who is a professor, writes articles, books and keeps a Web site dedicated to life on the plains. He keeps several family recipes on the
site so I went there to find a recipe to start with.

Here's the ingredients for the dough:

2 packs yeast

1 Tablespoon + 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon salt
2 cups warm milk

8-10 cups flour, divided (but you might need more)
2/3 cup butter (the original recipe calls for lard, but I didn't have any of that laying around)

2 eggs

I pretty much followed my uncle's (somewhat confusing) instructions for the dough.

In each of two small bowls, I stirred together 1 packet of yeast, 1/2 Tbls. sugar and 1/2 cup warm water to proof the yeast. I proofed each packet separately because I was a little worried that one or both of the packets wouldn't be good because of their age (the one on the left was a little iffy, but I decided to go with it).

In a small saucepan, I warmed the milk along with 3/4 cup sugar and the salt.

In the bowl of my stand mixer I combined 4 cups (20 ounces) of the flour ...

... along with the butter ...

... and the eggs. Then mixed to combine.

To this I added the proofed yeast and warm milk and mixed a bit more to create a batter. I set this aside to rise. We keep our house pretty cold, so I set the "warm and ready zone" on our stove to high ...

... then set a pan over it straddling the burners, then put my covered bowl of batter above this where it's nice and toasty.

Two hours later, it had risen quite a bit (and was nicely bubbly and yeasty, more signs my yeast was good, phew).

I put this on the stand mixer and added 4 more cups of flour.

I mixed it to combine, but I could tell that there was not nearly enough flour in the mix (it was soooo sticky). So, I added flour 1/2 cup at a time until it was just a little bit sticky. In all I ended up adding about 2 cups more of flour. Then I used the mixer to knead the dough for about 3 minutes (until it had developed a nice stretch). I returned this to the warm area to rise again.

While the dough was rising I set to making the filling. My uncle says he seasons the filling heavily with garlic salt, pepper, caraway, a Bavarian herb mix and soy but provides no idea about measurements (and what the heck is in a Bavarian herb mix). With a little research I came up with what seemed like it would be a tasty, German-type combination.

Here's the ingredients:

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped (my uncle calls for 2 onions, but I only had one in the pantry so I also added...)

1 bunch scallions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 sprigs or so of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped

16 or so fresh sage leaves, chopped

2ish Tablespoons mustard seed

1ish Tablespoon dry mustard

1/4 cup or so soy sauce

1 head cabbage, chopped

lots of salt and pepper (I used a red wine infused salt that a friend gave me)

Okay fine, my measurements aren't great either, but it should end up very heavily seasoned because it needs to stand up to the bread that it will be wrapped in.

I browned the ground beef then added the onion, garlic, seasonings and cabbage and cooked it until the onions and cabbage were soft.

I set this mix aside to cool while I waited for the bread to rise.

One hour later ...

The bread has risen alright.

I punched down the dough and turned it out onto my board (I put a couple of silpats down so sticking could be avoided). Using my hands I spread the dough to about a 1-inch thickness then used a 2-inch biscuit cutter to portion the dough.

I flattened each piece of dough a bit.

Spooned on about a tablespoon of filling.

Then folded the dough around the filling.

And pinched the edges together.

Then laid them out on a baking sheet.

I made an egg wash by beating together an egg with about a tablespoon of water and then brushed each of the bierocks with it. I don't think this step is traditional, but I figured this would help the outsides of the bread to get GBD (golden brown and delicious)

This made 42 bierocks total and as my husband and I are obviously not up to eating that many in one sitting I stuck the majority of then in the freezer (once frozen, I'll be able to take them off the baking sheet and stash them in a Ziploc to eat later).

I set the oven to 350 degrees and baked the ones meant for dinner for 15 minutes.

My uncle recommends eating bierocks with"pickled stuff" in the winter. So I made quick-pickled beets and served them along with cornichon pickles to complement the rolls.

Mmmm, perfect fall dinner (and especially fitting for October, you know with Oktoberfest and all). I was a little worried that I had gotten too crazy with the seasonings, but once it was eaten all together it seemed just fine.

These may have taken a while to put together (this was a nice rainy day, all-day project) but I'm looking forward to eating these warm, toasty buns in the weeks to come.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fennel and Asian Pear Salad

Okay, I know that in my last recipe post I went on about fall and the slow, complex food that comes along with it. But just because it's fall, that doesn't mean I'm done grilling.

Earlier in the day I had bought some chicken thighs with no real plan of what to do with them. A quick search of the fridge revealed barbecue sauce and corn. So I settled on grilling both the corn and the chicken (brushing on the barbecue sauce as the chicken finished cooking).

I wanted to make a quick salad to go with the meal, but I wasn't in the mood for a green salad. I settled on a lovely little raw fennel salad.

Here's the ingredients:

2 teaspoon sherry vinegar (cider vinegar would be good here too)
2 Tablespoon mayonnaise
2 big pinches sugar (not in the picture because I added it after tasting the dressing)
1 small head fennel, core removed, sliced thin
1 Asian pear, core removed, sliced thin
1/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
1/4 cup dried cherries

I started by combining the vinegar and the mayonnaise, along with a little salt and pepper in a small bowl. I tested for seasoning and decided to add a little sugar to cut the tanginess of the vinegar a bit.

Next I brought out my mandolin slicer, set it very thin, then sliced the fennel and the pear.

I added the sliced fennel and pear, along with the cherries and pecans, to the dressing and stirred to combine. That's it, super easy.

This turned out really good. Kind of Waldorf Salad like, but more complex. Crunchy, tangy, sweet, and did I mention really easy to make. This paired nicely with the barbecue chicken. If you are a late fall griller like me, I would definitely recommend this as a side dish.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's in the Box?

1 Bunch Orange Carrots
.4 pound Cremini Mushrooms
.75 pound Parsnips
1.5 pounds Freshly Dug Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 head Fennel
1 bunch Red Beets

.33 pound Braising Mix
1 Napa Cabbage
4 ear Sweet Corn

4 Flavor Queen Pluots

3 Nectarines
3 Asian Pears

Mmmm, root veggies. Looks like there is a roast in my future.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs

Okay, let's get one thing straight, I love summer. Warm weather (as long as it's not too hot), sunny skies, gardening, swimming in the lake, Caprese salads.

But as temperatures get colder, food gets slower, more complex. There is something magical about a meal that cooks for hours. The transformation of the meat and the broth. The smell wafting from the kitchen. It's reason to be thankful for fall.

Here's the ingredients:

4 meaty beef short ribs
3 Tablespoon flour seasoned with salt and pepper
4 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
6 clove garlic, minced
2 cups red wine
4 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh sage

To start, I turned the oven on to 350 degrees, then set out to find my dutch oven (I haven't used it in months, what with it being summer and all, and I couldn't remember where I had put it). Once I found it, I set it on the stove top added about a tablespoon of oil and set the burner to high. Meanwhile, I dusted the short ribs on all sides with 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour then added them to the now warm pan.

I cooked them until they were nicely browned on both sides.

And the edges.

Then I removed the short ribs from the pan and added the carrots and onions (p.s. the oil is really hot at this point, so be careful adding the veggies because it might splash up and hit your arm, and that will hurt) sprinkling them with just a little salt.

After the veggies had softened a little, I added the garlic and tomatoes.

Then after 30 seconds or so, I sprinkled on the remaining Tablespoon of seasoned flour.

Then let that cook, stirring the whole time, for another minute.

Then I added the red wine (stirring to make sure to get all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan), the herbs ...

... and the browned short ribs.

I brought this to a boil then put the lid on the pan.

And put the pan in the oven.

I let this cook for two hours, then took it out of the oven to rest. While the meat rested, I made some garlic mashed potatoes and red cabbage braised in apple juice and balsamic vinegar. Then it was time to eat.

Yum! The meat was literally falling off the bones, tender and succulent. The gravy was so good, just lightly herbaceous. Carrots were a little soft, but not enough to be a deal breaker (and really what can you expect from carrots that have been cooking for two hours).

Welcome fall, I look forward to many more slow-cooked Sunday meals.